Crash Discussions: That’s Not a Horror Movie!

The Last Knock

Or is it? We take a look at those films horror fans love, but aren’t listed as official horror entries, such as: SEVEN, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE TENANT, SALO, and much more. Find out why these films didn’t make the horror cut – and why it might not even matter…

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33 Replies to “Crash Discussions: That’s Not a Horror Movie!”

  1. You know, I don’t particularly consider ZODIAC a horror. However, let’s face it–it’s a far scarier and dread-inducing film than many so-called ‘horror’ films (films that fit comfortably in the genre due to convention…whatever). Therefore, I think it’s an important discussion to have…why do we decide that films aren’t ‘horror’ simply because they don’t fulfill some pre-conceived notion of what a horror film is? Case in point…ZODIAC, though not a horror movie, is a far more effective horror film (in terms of actually producing dread and, well, actual horror) than a movie we comfortably call ‘horror’ like, say, FREDDY Vs. JASON (which it and its ilk are part of a sub-genre I call ‘horror-ible’). So I’m glad to see you tackle this issue a little bit here.

    I have my own notions of what a horror movie is. It’s probably a bit stretchier than many people’s. (Which reminds me, Crash: I have two new article series based on this podcast’s very premise I’ll be pitching to you here shortly). I won’t go into it here, but I think there are a lot of things to consider. Namely what a film sets out to do, how it achieves it, it’s final effect on the viewer. There is a bit of a subjective element to it. Atmosphere plays a part. In the end I think it comes down to what the film’s philosophical essence is. What questions or problems does the the film pose and how does it choose to answer or address them? With that in mind here’s my two cents:

    MULHOLLAND DRIVE–not horror

    ERASERHEAD–horror
    SEVEN–horror.
    IRREVERSIBLE–not horror
    HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER–horror
    THE TENANT–horror
    BLACK SWAN–horror
    SILENCE OF THE LAMBS–not horror
    SALO–horror
    BLUE VELVET–not a horror. But like a lot of Lynch, it pulls hard in that direction.
    INLAND EMPIRE–You didn’t mention it, but I will. I think it fits the bill as a horror.

    1. Hi, Randy!

      Thank you so much for this. Philosophy is certainly a key ingredient, and I couldn’t agree with you more. However, trying to define horror is a nightmare on its own. Even at the recent MAPACA Fall Conference, no academicians seemed ready to tackle such a definition. Their faces clearly denoted pain from a fast blossoming headache.

      And I agree with you about INLAND EMPIRE, which I love.

      I’m definitely looking forward to those articles for Crash Palace! Let me know when you’re ready.

      Thanks for listening, be well, and enjoy,

      Bill

    2. Another well-articulated comment, Randy (I never really know how to respond, but figure I should for posterity). I do agree with your thoughts on ZODIAC – I read Robert Graysmith’s book before seeing the film, and the real-life horror of the tale really got to me; in many ways, Fincher’s film – in staying faithful to the non-sensational, true-crime tone – exploits fear of the unknown in a way that few horrors even attempt.

      As an aside, I always found it interesting that my local Blockbuster (in the VHS days) categorized Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH as drama, while DEAD RINGERS was horror.

      1. It is funny how NAKED LUNCH is listed as a horror when I find it a fantasy. However, the film is exceptional and I’m overjoyed that it can be claimed as part of the genre. In addition, the cinematography is phenomenal!

  2. I think it depends on what you like! I personally don’t need gore, violence or graphic deaths in order to scare me. I prefer Hitchcockian style horror. A slow, creeping horror that slowly builds up the dread in the back of your mind until that ONE SCENE when all of a sudden you are shivering and you can’t sit still! You are so afraid, you turn on the lights, and you didn’t even know you were watching a horror! THat is my absolute favorite kind of horror in movies, tv, and literature. Most of these kinds of books, tv, movies etc aren’t even considered horror. But I think they should be. I think the best writers/creators can inject horror into something that isn’t considered a “traditional” horror film to great effect. The scariest thing in the entire world is the unknown. All our fears stem from the unknown. Too many horror films these days don’t use that to good advantage. It seems that a lot of horror filmmakers are leaning on gore, violence and shock value, using them as crutches, because their plot, characters, etc cannot seem to stand on their own. But, it’s all about taste I suppose. Some people might never consider something without chainsaws, blood squirting and a mutilated villain horror no matter what I say! And so the conversation continues…

    1. Hi, Amber!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      There are, thankfully, more horror films out there that do not go the gore and slasher route – and I think those narratives in the genre are growing all the time. Therefore, I’d recommend the following if you haven’t seen them: THE ORPHANAGE, THE CHANGELING (1980), SLEEP TIGHT, THE UNINVITED GUEST, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 for starters.

      Be well, and thanks so very much for listening to the show,

      Bill

  3. I was just talking about this the other day but in relation to literature. I was complaining that a lot of literature websites and even my beloved local library often times do not have a Horror section, but instead places horror novels in a Mystery & Thriller section. While, absolutely, there is often crossover between the categories, horror novels as a whole are very different than thrillers and mysteries. Or well I could say that my aunt would happily read a gruesome thriller (based in the realistic world), but never touch a scary horror (based in the fantastic).

    1. Jason, your comment reminds me of the GONE GIRL phenomenon – while Gillian Flynn doesn’t write horror in the Stephen King/supernatural sense, her realistic observations on people and the everyday (even banal) evil of which they are capable leads to some bone-chilling passages (DARK PLACES in particular worked me over) that are up there with some of the most effective horror literature. But in keeping the “monsters” strictly human, and using the structure of a mystery, she is placed in the more easily-marketable “thriller” genre (not that I’m arguing the categorization, I just find it interesting). But to me, stories or movies where the “monster” is us crawl under my skin and haunt me more than slashers and gore.

      1. As an aside, I hope you read Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS. For me, that’s her best work to date. (I haven’t read GONE GIRL, but my wife said I’d hate it. As for DARK PLACES, I found the story ludicrous.)

        1. I have read SHARP OBJECTS – thought it was a solid debut (didn’t think the mystery unfolded as well as it could have, but that’s a minor complaint).

  4. I think this was a brilliant debate. In truth, there are so many subsets that have been lumped into the horror genre that they’re all blurring together.

    1. Thanks, S.G. – appreciate the kind words. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out our “What is Horror?” episode (there are some interesting similarities between the two). It is interesting how horror finds ways to cross many genres, even if its effects are fleeting.

      1. Definitely! Honestly, The Last Knock is the ONLY podcast I take the time to listen to because it is both fun and informative. I can tell you two are having a blast and I find myself laughing out loud when you two are bantering.

  5. Interesting show! Good job guys. Yeah, when you realize a film like Beetlejuice is considered a horror film, you do learn that Horror is such a wide genre! I suppose this has to do with perception. In my case i never think of A Clockwork Orange as a Horror film but i know that some do and i understand. There are also violent films out there today that are considered comedies. You can see that on IMDB, still they’re in my Horror collection.

    There are perceptions that i think are weird though. Some of my fav horror films are gentle, funny and cool horror but i was asked by a friend one day, we had just watched the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. He goes: “It blows man. It’s not a horror is it?” It’s just that films like this one, TCM 1974, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and all this violence are all examples of sheer horror to me!

    You guys talked about THE CHANGELING, which i think is a Horror. I remember the drama in this one! And it still one of my favourite ghost story on films. I think this will grow and become more and more left to opinions and perceptions but if there’s a line that must be drawn, hearing fans go like: “This is not horror, this is a zombie film.” or “This is not Horror, this is massacre/slasher.” makes me wonder what THEY actually would consider Horror. Still, great show guys.

    1. Hey, Jonny! Thanks so much for listening, and for giving us your excellent comments. Horror definitely comes down to one’s perception. But as you said, I wonder what some people actually consider horror films to be.

      As for THE CHANGELING, it is respected yet under-appreciated. Like you, it’s one of my favorite ghost/haunted house stories. In fact, a few scenes still freak me out! No lie.

      Have a great one, buddy, and thanks again!

  6. Oh man…opening with a Prince of Darkness reference. Epic, guys. This was a very cool and interesting ep, fellas. Very thought provoking and a very insightful conservation into the perceptions of what make a horror movie a horror movie. It is easy to have labels set upon the genre as a whole without realizing the nuances and differences involved in everything that goes into it.

    “The Changeling” …”Is it bloody?” LOL I’m glad you mentioned that film. It rules. At the screening for the 35mm print I recently saw here in Rochester, there was a full crowd and many of them, I could easily tell, were not horror fans but they appreciated good suspense, good storytelling, mood and performances. Horror could be realized on so many levels and interpretations of reality and fantasy alike can be confused. Like The Black Swan, Silence of the Lambs and the like. Arguments could be made that they are not overtly horror but a horror fan is usually the first to see right through the facade. Therein, the debates and differences make for good arguments on the whole.

    Keep these great discussions coming guys and I am having a blast catching up on them! (The Wicker Man gets better with repeated viewings, btw). Also, kudos on mentioning “1984” Good pick, Bill

    1. Hey, Vic! So glad you’re back!

      Thank you so much for your stellar comments. I’m thrilled (and jealous as you know) that you got to see the amazing THE CHANGELING on the big screen. Sigh.

      I was recently at an academic conference regarding popular American culture, and horror fan professors were in abundance. Among the scholarly speak and rhetoric, whenever I asked someone to define horror, the person ended up twitching and spazzing. It’s definitely a hard one to conjure. As horror films face the uncanny in all its mystery, I’m actually thrilled that horror itself escapes the cage of definition.

      I’m honored that you continue to listen in and that you find the show worthwhile!

      Be well and enjoy, my friend,

      Bill

        1. Hey, Todd:

          Not specifically, but we do have a forthcoming podcast focused on a major Asian director for one of our Director of the Damned shows. We hope to record that very soon!

          Be well, and thanks so much for checking the links!

          Enjoy,

          Bill

  7. Interesting discussion which I have enjoyed listening to. Some thoughts on it all:
    The application of the term ‘horror’ seems to be (obviously) based on a loose definition that changes with the times. I would also say that it changes with story quantity as well as quality.

    The Wolfman, way back when, was a movie that didn’t easily fit in with other films of the genre. Wasn’t a love movie or war movie, not a ‘Beach blanket bingo’ style movie. It gets harder still when you have sci-fi movies mixed into the blend and you further subdivide classifications.

    Horror seems to have become a catch all versus a well defined genre.

    In order to have a clear definition of what should be classified (or even tangentially so) you have to, at some point, actually have people sit down and decide what the term means in a broad manner while respecting that elements of it can be present in movies/books/comics that either don’t contain all of the elements and recognize that films and such can be cross classified.

    What would you all say are, maybe, the top 5-10 things which must be present to garner the title of ‘horror’? Is there a percent of a film/book/etc which must fall within that?

    Further complicating it all are the greater divisions – look for films about the end of the world, would those be considered horror, apocalyptic, drama? The Walking Dead could have Horror as it’s main classification, but then be broken down into other genres (zombies, end of the world, survivalist, drama, etc).

    Without some guiding principles it is hard, and will continue to be hard, to go through films through history and define where, or to what degree, they fit into the category.

    1. Outstanding comments and questions, Thomas.

      As for those five or ten things, I couldn’t pin them down. The trouble for me is that with all genre identification, they are established by producers and publishers. The problem is trying to squeeze every project into a well defined cubicle, and that’s not possible. This means that many films/books end up in places they don’t belong (Benjamin Hoff’s “The Tao of Pooh” comes to mind because it’s filed under “humor” instead of “philosophy”) or marketers fail to promote them because the genre is not clear cut.

      In the end, we have to establish our own definitions, or we can just enjoy the film/book for what it is without trying to stick a label to it.

      In all honesty, the notion of “what is horror?” always gives me a headache. I might start responding this way: “The uncanny is undefinable.” Hell, I like that.

      Thanks so much for listening to the show, and stopping by to leave wonderful and thought provoking remarks.

      Be well,

      Bill

  8. Speaking to the front row munching on a huge bucket of corn and swilling a humongous, icy-cold soda, amen my horror brothers and sisters.

    For me at least, the absolute scariest movies are far less graphic where violence, gore, guts, blood, and grossness are concerned.

    Give me Hitchcock & ish movies any day of the week and three matinees on Sunday. Evil, intrigue, PLOT, imagination prompted visually keep me on the edge of the fold down and back to the box office.

    But, the corn must be right or that theater gets far less of my hardly-pilfered cash. Ron

    1. Hey, Ron. Your points are hard to argue. For me, nothing works like suspense, and I mean a genuine sense of foreboding far removed from the usual tropes that we’ve become desensitized to. For instance, the Spanish film, THE UNINVITED GUEST, had my heart racing the entire time without so much as one drop of blood. If writers and directors can deliver compelling stories inhabited with riveting characters – all immersed in an intense atmosphere – then I’m sold.

      Thanks for stopping by – and I look forward to chatting with you soon!

      Bill

      1. Bill, I’m all-in with everything you wrote… in the simplest of terms, I love and seek movies that move me, that touch, stir or even slap my senses, those true masterpieces, whether duly anointed as such or not, that bring the tears, laughter, joy, fear, or longing. If my tears are aptly earned and sprinkle the hot-buttered, fluffy puffiness that’s beauty on film or in print. If the pounding of my heart drowns the slurping of my super-sized, icy-cold soda so goes the praise for what is before me. I adore movies that transport or consume you body, mind, and spirit into them… into that most special place where time and anything else outside of that movie or book vanish, if only temporarily.
        Give me that and as Arnold said, “I’ll be back!”… again and again. So, keep the corn popping, the ice hard and cold, the faux butter flowing, and please, have some real popcorn salt on hand, you know, the yellow kind.
        We’re going to have a party next Monday night!
        Ron

        1. Excellent words, Ron. You have touched the essence of what film should always bring to an audience, and I agree on all levels.

          A blast we shall have indeed! I’m looking forward to it in a big bad way!

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